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Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God

 
 
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Pros


Makes difficult-to-understand theological concepts palatable for the common man

Cons


Often over explains the concepts presented in the infographics themselves.


Bottom Line

There’s a lot that is spot-on theologically, but a lot more that misses the mark in regards to execution of a project intended to utilize the visual medium.

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Posted September 12, 2016 by

 
Full Review
 
 

We live in a visual culture. Today, people increasingly rely upon visuals to help them understand new and difficult concepts. The rise and stunning popularity of the Internet infographic has given us a new way in which to convey data, concepts and ideas.

But the visual portrayal of truth is not a novel idea. Indeed, God himself used visuals to teach truth to his people. The tabernacle of the Old Testament was a visual representation of man’s distance from God and God’s condescension to his people. Each part of the tabernacle was meant to display something of man’s treason against God and God’s kind response. Likewise, the sacraments of the New Testament are visual representations of man’s sin and God’s response. Even the cross was both reality and a visual demonstration.

As teachers and lovers of sound theology, Challies and Byers have a deep desire to convey the concepts and principles of systematic theology in a fresh, beautiful and informative way. In this book, they have made the deepest truths of the Bible accessible in a way that can be seen and understood by a visual generation.

 

 

 

Many people don’t know that stained glass, while beautiful, was invented during the Middle Ages in an effort to present Bible stories to an increasingly illiterate culture. People may not have been able to read, but they could associate certain images with various Bible stories, continuing the tradition of the Word while creating a new medium by which people could understand it (mosaics notwithstanding). Today, while the world boasts many more literate cultures than during the Middle Ages, people are certainly moving towards being a more visual culture. With the rise of social media, people’s patience for the written word has waned. This is evidenced by an outrage culture that can usually be found responding to a headline rather than the 300-word essay that accompanies it.

Enter infographics. In short, information graphics or “infographics” are graphic visual representations of information, data, or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly, according to Wikipedia. Understanding this trend towards functional illiteracy concerning the Christian faith, blogger Tim Challies and Josh Byers have offered up their newest collaboration, Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God.

The book is split up into 4 sections and 10 chapters, containing 27 infographics throughout the book. Some of the infographics are more elaborate or detailed than others, but they’re all colorful and easy enough to follow. The ideas described are basic enough, such as what is the gospel, who we are in Christ, and how to grow in our relationship with God. From there, it gets a little more involved, but not so much so that the reader would feel lost. In short, Visual Theology reads a lot like Sunday School 101 and Sunday School 201 if you’re from any sort of evangelical church.

Where I feel Visual Theology lacks strongly is the need to over explain the concepts presented in the infographics themselves. While difficult theological concepts are beautifully presented in graphic format, Challies then spends pages and pages explaining those concepts. The power of a good infographic is that its [generally] unnecessary to further clarify the information that is presented by them. A good example of a book of infographics that bear no further explanation would be Tim Leong’s Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe. The book contains only infographics and the reader walks away understanding the basics—and not so basics—of how comic books work. While it could be argued that theology is more complicated than how comic books work, my contention is not whether a concept is more or less complex than another. What is the purpose of infographics in the first place? What my question gets at is that Challies’ explanations dilute the purpose and power of using the visual medium to explain theology in the first place. The truth is, the infographics are thorough enough that everything said beyond them is superfluous.

I think Visual Theology is a good attempt and definitely taps into a [longstanding] need within the church to make difficult-to-understand theological concepts palatable for the common man. In that respect, I admire what Challies and Byers have put together here. In the future I’d like to see another volume that relies more on the infographics themselves than on the pages-upon-pages of explaining them.


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